Saturday, 13 October 2012

Loving Lucy Day 3: The Story of a Smashing Hit

It was running in full speed: Every week, twenty-six minutes of never before seen television gold. The fans doubled. Tripled. Quadrupled. In a country with just over 15 million television sets, over 11 million were estimated to tune in every Monday night.  They identified with it, and deep down inside, they wanted to be just like Lucy: Quirky, slightly crazy, but at the same time impossible not to love.

In Season one, when the show was just starting off, it was already the third most watched show in the United States. It's true that television was not as varied and far-reaching as it is today, but at the same time, "I Love Lucy" was the only one that primed for its quality. The story told in the last post about the kinescope films and the overtaken of production by Lucy and Desi were crucial. Also, Desi was a very talented businessman and capable of skyrocketing the show's visibility. It was a combination of all sorts of talents to create the most legendary show there ever was. By season 2, it was the top television show in the United States and it remained so for five years. 

In 1952, Lucille became pregnant with their second child, Desiderio Jr. The pre-occupation by the network was that pregnant women on television were, if not forbidden, frowned upon by the general audience. But, for a show that dared to be innovative from the get-go, it was time for yet another silent revolution. Lucille Desirée Ball was the first pregnant woman to ever be broadcast on television. The episode where she announced her pregnancy concentrated 71.7% of television sets in the United States, and it had more viewers than the Eisenhower inauguration. Lucy was taking over the world. 

The tiny Desilu productions grew by the second from the money generated by "I Love Lucy". Since the Arnazes owned the biggest chunk of the franchise, over half the money generated from it went straight to their pockets. They invested it on Desilu Productions, that quickly became Desilu Studios and finally reached out to produce other movies and television shows. 

Despite the rivalry between film and television, Lucy and Desi were probably the only two performers before 1960 who could say they were successful in both. After charming the public on TV, they could easily make the transition back to the big screen, because now that they were the country's biggest starts, America wanted to see them wherever they were. "The Long Long Trailer" was an enchanting flick released in 1953, when I Love Lucy was at its prime, with the Arnazes as main stars. It was a box office hit. In 1956, "Forever Darling" was released. It's not as charming as the first one, because by then their marriage was starting to fall apart. 

It really is amazing that such a work of art resulted from a failing marriage, but that was certainly the case. The Arnazes' marriage was breaking apart and it was doing it fast. Desi's drinking and philandering irritated Lucy profoundly and her strong temperament was sometimes more than he could handle. And what was exasperating about it was that they couldn't stand to see their love being lost. They loved each other above all and to realize that they couldn't be together was a heartache that only made things worse. The end of "I Love Lucy" would most likely also bring the end of their marriage. 

But, before we talk about sad endings, let's talk about the show's recognition by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, or the Emmy Award Academy. The show was nominated for a whopping 24 Awards. Lucille Ball got 2 of her 4 Best Comedienne Emmys for "I Love Lucy". (The other two were both for "The Lucy Show".) Lucy was an Emmy regular, receiving multiple Awards for both her shows and her own performances, but regardless of how many she had, she always shed a few tears when picking up the statuette. In 1954, when Lucy and Desi climbed on the stage to receive their Best Situation Comedy Award, Desi, very serious, protested that the Academy had forgotten the writers, neglecting to create a category for Best Writing or Best Screenplay. In the following year, such category was a part of the Emmys. Surely enough, Pugh, Carroll and Oppenheimer were nominated. 

Because of its innovative nature, "I Love Lucy" inspired multiple shows of the current day. From the use of a live audience and the incorporation of its laughs on the show (like in many of today's sitcoms, most notoriously Friends) to the use of three different cameras for the capture of various angles, which is used in almost all self-respecting TV shows of the current day. 

The late fifties were an emotional time

In 1957, however, "I Love Lucy" became an hourly TV show, aired on a less frequent basis. It was called "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour". It lasted for only a few episodes, spanning only a little over two years. The Arnazes could no longer be together. Their working relationship was impaired by their problems at home. After seven years of fairy tale careers, it was time reality kicked in. 

On the last episode of the Comedy Hour, Edie Adams guest starred and sang a song by the name of  "That's All". Its lyrics symbolized the bittersweet ending of the Arnaz television empire and at the same time, the crumbling of their marriage. "I can only give you love that lasts forever, and a promise to be near each time you call, and the only heart I own for you and you alone, that's all, that's all..." The first takes of Edie's performance were said to drive the cast and crew to tears. You can check out the aired version here, and I strongly recommend it. Lucy and Desi's last kiss on television appeared in a scene supposed to be comedic, but it carried a certain sorrow about it. After the filming of the last episode was over, Desi gave Lucy a last hug. There was not one dry eye in the place.  

After the series finale, there was nothing more to hold on to for the Arnazes, other than the desire to move on with their lives. On March 2nd, 1960, Desi's 43rd birthday, Lucy filed for divorce. They both remarried, and carried on with very successful solo careers. Lucy stood out as the most successful television performer to this day. But, after 1960, and 20 years of a beautiful, troubled, earth-shattering, legendary relationship, a shadow was cast in their lives. They would always have a past to look back to: A past of unmatched success, a romance that shook the world and the promise of undying love. 

To be continued... Tomorrow. 

So long,

P.S. Desi Arnaz declared that after the tense period of awkwardness and anger following any divorce, he and Lucy were again united by a very strong friendship. By the late 1960s, they were talking on the phone three times a week. Pictures like this, with a grey-haired wrinkly Desi receiving a tender kiss on the cheek by an older Lucy, prove my point. 


  1. Maybe audiences weren't too driven to gossip in the 1960s or even didn't have this kind of information, but the end of the show at the smae time of the ending of the marriage must have been tough and also very touching. That's all is a magnificent song.

  2. I didn't realize the "I Love Lucy" show was so groundbreaking. Great post!

  3. beautiful ladies but i like today's actress of hollywood films